The power of video storytelling

Published by Jonathon Grapsas on

We all love watching a good video clip. In the last couple of years we’ve been captivated by the likes of charity:water, Kony, and now the zillion versions of the Harlem Shake.

Lots of views, tonnes of excitement, all bringing something a little unique.

Video presents both an opportunity and a threat for fundraisers.

Video untapped

youtubeHere are some ways I believe video can help you even more effectively share your story.

When you want to take someone to the coalface. You’re an animal welfare organisation employing inspectors to rid the state of illegal and cruel puppy farms. It’s near impossible to recreate ‘that’ moment when those hapless puppies were seized. Short of being there, recapturing those rancid conditions and mistreatment can only be shown visually. Here’s an example.

When you want to tell a complex story. You work in medical research and you’re tackling a big problem: finding a cure and prevention for cerebral palsy. The problem is not only do most people don’t really know was CP is, most consider it a condition acquired at birth and assume it’s a hapless case. How do you dispel that myth and provide hope that something can be done? Here’s an example.

When words simply won’t do. Watching a young child’s cochlear implant being ‘switched on’ for the first time can’t be done justice through the written word. Sometimes words simply won’t do. See for yourself.

And remember, it should be as long as it needs to be. Here’s proof that in just 66 seconds you can illustrate how one persons life can be changed. Conversely it might take 66 minutes. If it keeps my attention and moves me to act, so be it.

Video: beware

As always, some words of caution. It’s easy to get caught up in the mystique and beauty of creating video content. It’s much more fun than writing. It gets you away from your desk, and let’s face it: we’re all budding videographers now with video technology in the palm of our hands. But that doesn’t mean using video is always right.

Don’t use video…

To replace stuff that works. You’ve got some great footage of a trauma patient walking for the first time since their accident. Let’s ditch the mail appeal for those who have an email address? And for those who don’t, we’ll send a URL in the body of the letter and direct them to you tube?


DM responsive donors won’t respond at the same levels online as they do offline. Distracting those who get the letter with a link draws them away from the thing we know they respond to, the mail. And by sending people to you tube you have no way to capture their gifts (of the few people who get to this point).

You’ve just cost yourself thousands of dollars. Instead, ‘support’ the appeal with the video. Send an eDM in addition to the letter (not instead of) for those you can. Embed the you tube clip within a landing page so you keep them on your site. Perhaps even send the video on a DVD to your top 100 donors.

Continue doing what works, support with (rather than replacing with) video.

To make you look cool/professional

Authenticity is king. Your supporters don’t care how funky it looks. They care about how their support can or has made a difference. Footage shot from you iPhone can and should be used. Imagine arriving on the scene of that puppy farm raid, smartphone in hand…

Just because you have some great footage

Let me clarify by saying if you have some great footage and you can share as a donor care exercise, then do it.

But when appealing to supporters, the goalposts shift a little. It may be the wrong audience. You may have a great story, but it conflicts, rather than supports, the offline appeal. It may confuse rather than compel me to act. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, do it if/because it helps you more effectively tell your story. Which ultimately helps you help more beneficiaries.

The final word

Video is great, when used properly.

Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon has spent the last decade working with charities all around the world. Initially in the UK, and more recently in Canada and his native Australia. An influential blogger, writer and speaker, Jonathon's spends most of time now helping charities reach out to people online.


Polko · March 22, 2013 at 16:36

Im wondering why tehy dont put in the end of each youtube video a clickable link to donate page :)

    Jonathon · March 22, 2013 at 23:23

    Hi Polko

    Each of the videos I shared were used in very different ways, most embedded within a landing page within the org’s website, and of course giving people access easily to donate.

    However not all of them were used simply as a means to solicit small cash gifts. The CPA research foundation video is shared at corporate luncheons where the ask is to consider becoming a partner of the Foundation, it isn’t just about a one off cash gift.

    Thanks for the feedback.

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